This article is going to teach you to relax for the win! I am going to challenge the commonly held assumption that in order to succeed we need to push ourselves hard. The aim of this article is to show you that by taking the time to relax and enjoy life we actually increase the likelihood that we will succeed and do so sustainably.
So let’s get at it!
The Burnout Approach
In other articles I have written I decry the conditioning most of us receive throughout our lives which convinces us that the most effective and direct way to success is by working hard and sacrificing the quality of our life in the name of our career. I call this “the burnout approach.”
Burnout is a feeling of utter exhaustion during and after work. It also shows up as apathy and cynicism towards work and reduced professional efficacy. While burnout is not a clinical diagnosis, some experts believe that other conditions, such as depression, can be behind burnout. In this way, burnout is a symptom of some underlying condition.
If you or someone you know of is experiencing a feeling of exhaustion with work, constantly asking “What’s the point of all the work I do, anyways?” and/or has little energy to do anything other than work, then it’s likely burnout.
I know this because I have been burned out in the past. I worked very hard to get to a position in a great university and while I was there I ran out of motivation to accomplish what I had set out to do. I burned out.
Burnout is becoming more and more common these days, especially among millenials, who are just now entering the middle of their careers.
We’re Working Less, But Burning Out More
According to “Our World In Data”, over the last 150 years in industrialized economies, the average working hours has decreased by roughly half. This varies greatly from country to country, but it can be safely said that we are on average working less today than we did 150 years ago.
So if we’re working less than our great-grandparents, how come we see the rate of workers experiencing burnout increasing?
It’s because of what people are doing with their free time. Even though people are working less than before, which has freed up time, the activities which people are doing during that time are not of the same quality as those done by our forebears.
Where our grandparents spent their free time with others, people of my generation are spending their time in passive consumption in front of screens.
According to the New York Times, in 2018 the average American spent 2 hours and fifty minutes watching TV a day. And that’s just TV. It does not account for time spent browsing the internet.
Where before, people in industrialized countries had rich social lives, studies show that the average number of close friends a person has has decreased over the last 25 years. Having close friends is essential for our spiritual, physical and mental health. Human beings have not evolved to go at life alone. Yet our modern civilization keeps pushing us into isolation. And most people are utterly ignorant and go along with it, oblivious of the cost incurred from this process.
In other words, we have more free time today, but we’re using it less intelligently.
The Stressors Of Today
A stressor is a stimulus which causes stress to an organism. For instance, hunger, disease and poverty are stressors.
Every era comes with its own stressors. For example, at the beginning of the industrial revolution the accretion of wealth and power in the hands of owners of capital meant workers surrendered their health and dignity when they chose to work in a factory. Workers worked grueling hours in appalling conditions and could be fired without consequence in the event of injury.
That changed, now there’s laws which protect workers from abusive practices in the workplace.
But that doesn’t mean that all the stressors are gone. They have merely shape-shifted.
Today’s stressors in the rich world operate on our attention. And while the stressors of yesteryear existed outside of the home, today they have made their way into our living rooms, pockets and bedside tables.
We have surrounded ourselves with devices and applications which offer an endless array of dopamine-producing stimulation. In ignorance, we have enslaved our attention to these devices, unaware that by investing all of our free time into them we are undermining our ability to live healthy, balanced and rich lives. Our attention is milked for profit, every add we’re shown while watching a show or using an app makes money for the platform operators.
Of course, these technologies are backed by powerful supercomputers and algorithms expertly designed to hack our behavior, so it isn’t all our fault. I don’t believe people can be blamed for their ignorance.
But claiming ignorance of how technology can hack our behavior does not protect us from being taken advantage of.
There are still predators out there, we wither adapt to them or we suffer.
Using Attention Intelligently
Attention is creative. This is a universal human law. What we focus our attention on we create more of. This is encapsulated in the saying “Where focus goes energy flows”.
In order for a human to get something he or she wants, what’s the first step we must take? We have to focus on what we want (actually, we first have to be aware of what we want, the second step is focusing on it, but you get what I’m trying to say here.)
That’s why the regular practice of gratitude is so empowering. When we focus on what we’re grateful for, we create more of it. This is true regardless of whether we have the thing we’re grateful for or not. I talk about how that works in this article.
So today we have free time, we just don’t know how to use our attention intelligently during our free time.
Burnout is a symptom of being ignorant of how the creative nature of attention works.
We Are Conditioned To Burnout
The burnout approach is forced onto us from a bunch of different directions starting out early in life and it has gotten even more pronounced recently.
First and foremost, there’s school. From the time we begin school we are conditioned to compete for the best grades. This “competition mindset” then follows us for the rest of our lives, because what we learn as children sets the models for how the world works. This matters because competition is exhausting. Also, competing is not the best way to get things done, cooperation is better for that.
Then there’s our parents, who learned the same things we did in school (hint: school is terrible). So not only do we learn to compete in school, we also learn it from our parents! On top of that, it’s most likely that our parents never learned anything about the creative nature of attention. So they’re just as ignorant as we are when it comes to focusing on the things we want because we create what we focus on.
And then there’s the media. How many times have we been exposed to the message “No pain no gain?” or some variant thereof? Watch television and you will see how the concept of “hard work is the only way to succeed” gets thrown around from one talking head to another. If hard work were the key to success, the hardest workers would be the richest people around. Which is not true.
You Can Work Hard And Still Be Poor
You can also work hard, somehow become rich, but be so miserable because all you do is work that you can’t enjoy life. That’s not success.
So the link between hard work and success is not as strong as teachers/parents/media would have us believe.
There’s no way around it. If we want real success we need to challenge commonly held assumptions and be creative. In other words, we need to be intelligent.
Human Beings Are Complex
The human body and brain are not machines, despite all the simplistic messages we receive to the contrary. With a machine you can put more energy into it and it will produce a greater output. Burn more gas, go faster. Run more current, be more powerful. It’s a linear relationship.
That is not the case with the body and brain. Pushing ourselves harder and harder is not the way to lasting, satisfying, intelligent success. It’s the way to burnout.
Human beings are complex beings. This means our bodies and brains do not operate linearly. They operate complexly.
Saying we are “better” than machines doesn’t even begin to cut it. We are so much more advanced than any machine our species has ever invented that we are not even in the same dimension. So treating ourselves as machines is a tragic lessening of human beingness.
With a human being “more work” does not always equal “more success.” I’ll be straightforward, we do need to work hard to achieve great things. But there’s working hard ignorantly and there’s working hard intelligently. Most people work hard ignorantly, believing they will strike success that way. They won’t. Working hard ignorantly leads to wasted effort and poor returns.
To Succeed, We Must Honor Our Complexity
Complex systems are not machines. In a car, you can change the fuel used and the car might go a little faster or slower, but everything else remains the same; the car’s structure, physical composition, color, etc.
With a complex system, like a human being or a forest, when we change one thing we change everything else.
For example, with a human, change the diet and everything changes; our thoughts, our moods, our energy levels, the hue of our skin…
We are not taught to honor our complexity. We are conditioned to treat ourselves like machines. This is a consequence of the system of thought at the core of our industrialized civilization; the maximization of production.
Just like production is linearly maximized, we apply the same system of thought to us. With this system, to be successful, we must always be ready to work 8 hours a day 5 days a week, at least. At work we must always be at peak performance. We must always be able to push as hard as we can. We must be at top efficiency.
What happens in a complex system when one of its elements is out of balance for too long? Say in a forest, what happens if, somehow, all the trees are replaced by one single species? Or a species of animal dominates all others?
Ecosystem collapse. The complex web of relationships on which life depends falls apart.
So in a human, what happens if one element of life, work, is out of balance for too long?
Burnout. Illness. Death.
What’s the point of all the work we do if we’re too exhausted/sick/dead to enjoy it?
The logic is unassailable. If we want to succeed sustainably we must honor our complexity.
We must relax.
To Relax Is To Honor Our Complexity
Work is important. Human beings need to work to be happy and healthy. Even Tibetan monks, masters of happiness, believe this.
But work isn’t the only thing there is. Living to only work is guaranteed to come with negative consequences down the line. We’re all going to die, but I’d rather live a happy, healthy and prosperous life before that happens. Wouldn’t you?
In today’s stressed-out, attention-deficient world, relaxing regularly is one way to honor our complexity. Relaxing regularly is how we succeed sustainably.
And when I say regularly I mean EVERY DAY.
But, you might say, I have so many responsibilities; I’m poor/I’m a single mother/I’m taking all these classes/I’m trying to make partner at my firm, How am I going to take the time to relax every day?
My answer is: make the time. It’s in your best interest. Are you a powerless victim to your circumstances, surrendering your destiny to forces outside of yourself? Or are you an active creator of your life, powerfully moving forward towards your unique greatness? The choice is yours.
You can go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier if you have to.
What Happens When We Relax Regularly
By making the time to relax we allow our body and brain to recover. We open the gates to our creativity. We renew our energy and fire up our joy for life.
Paradoxically, by working less and relaxing more we actually end up being more successful! We have our best ideas when we’re relaxed and healthy. We provide the best service when we have a light, joyful heart.
If you’re a doctor, your patients will feel how relaxed you are and will enjoy their visits with you more, this will help them heal.
If you’re a sever or a bartender, your customers will also feel how relaxed you are and will enjoy their experience more. This will lead to better tips.
If you’re a scientist, you’ll be able to find creative solutions to challenges and end up with better publications.
If you’re a writer, ideas will come to you in torrents and your writing will flow from your fingers like honeyed wine down a chalice.
If you’re a stay at home parent, you will be the happiest and healthiest you can be for your children, this will make them happy and healthy in turn.
If you’re a student, you will learn more and perform better in exams.
All of this and more happens to us when we relax regularly. It costs nothing but time to do so.
But the relaxing has to honor our complexity.
The Best Relaxing
The best relaxing does not involve looking at a screen. Or drinking alcohol or other poisonous substances. Sorry to disappoint. We seek to honor our complexity; screens and alcohol don’t do that.
The best relaxing is unique to everyone. It can be reading a book, going on a walk in the forest, drawing, listening to music, playing music, meeting friends for coffee or tea, dancing. In short, anything that’s fun, that does not involve a screen or a poisonous substance.
This is great news!
The more relaxing fun we have the better life is! How awesome is that?
Relaxing every day is a challenge only if we’re conditioned to following the burnout approach.
When all we’ve ever done is follow the burnout approach, taking time off from working or watching screens or consuming poisons, will make us uncomfortable. We might feel like we’re wasting our time, like we should be working or doing something else that is “productive.”
There is no other way to decondition ourselves from following the burnout approach than to stick through the discomfort of relaxing (hah!). Take it from someone who followed the burnout approach for many years.
Hypnosis therapy can also help. Read this article to learn about how it helped me.
Final Thoughts On Relaxing
I hope you’ve found this article empowering. I’m committed to delivering to my readers the best information so that you can may make more empowering choices. Often, it isn’t money or talent that gets in the way of our success, but our own ignorance. Ignorance of how success works and what our options are.
We all have options, we just need some help to see them from time to time.
So I invite you to take the time to relax more! Doing so will upgrade your life in every way possible. I speak from experience.
To our wealth and success.